Thursday, 27 December 2007

Mistletoe and wine

As both of the readers of this blog will testify, I am quite a miserable bastard and what better time of the year for the miserable bastard to be inundated with opportunities to complain about something than Christmas.

If it isn’t young, but possibly not naive girls from Manchester being roasted over an open fire or more probably in front of an open fire but under a group of Manchester united players then it’s the guaranteed plethora of absolute shit on television on all the channels, without exception.
This is also the time of year when Cliff Richard sings his cheery festive ditty about mistletoe and wine with children singing Christian rhyme. But it does make me wonder where the fuck Cliff Richard lives because you can be sure it isn't South Wales.

I was visited today by three ghosts… no, wait that’s a film isn’t it? I mean two young men from the Mormon faith who apparently have nothing better to do than to walk around, sticking out like proverbial sore thumbs and converting, or attempting to persuade people to join their faith. I was waiting from a friend to arrive when they knocked the door and as I’m not afraid to speak about religion I decided to speak to them for the five minutes I had to spare
(indeed when I’ve had a few beers I court the taboo topics of religion and politics. Maybe that’s why I sometimes get into trouble!). Twenty minutes later my friend had not arrived, the Mormons and I by had by that time covered the basics, where they were from (Finland and Colorado) and what I thought about Christmas. They seemed pleased to hear that I was not in favour of the ridiculous commercialisation that goes on and that it should be a time for families. I did however seem to have a prefix to most of my sentences which enlightened them as to my position on religion, it was "I’m not a religious person but…"

Anyway after 32 minutes of talking, me denying a request for them to come into my house to sit through a DVD about the Mormon church and them giving me a copy of their book ‘The book of Mormon’ my friend arrived and I was rescued (I did enjoy talking to them for a little while but it does get very boring when you reach a point where they just spout religion at you).

Whilst there is no fear of me being converted to Mormonism (although the practice of plural marriage is something to be considered) we did discuss some interesting points about Christmas including me teaching them something! The vision of the jolly old man in the red and white suit was in fact a creation of the Coca cola Company (the red and white suit that is).

Christmas has changed since I was a kid, or at least that is how it appears. It is now a time when we, as a nation stuff our already fat faces with sub standard supermarket shit that we wouldn’t normally buy or even eat. The stock response when asked about the seasonal eating habits is always the same, "its Christmas isn’t it!" and it truly is, every f’ing where.

I have just returned from a supermarket where I foolishly thought I could pop in and buy a bottle of wine (I know, tosser) and a bottle of beer (have I redeemed myself?) to watch a football match and I sear to God (not specifically the Mormon god, any god) it was the last time I will ever enter a supermarket and not just at Christmas either, ever, I hate them.

They always seem to be full when I want to go, especially at Christmas , of greedy bastards who fill both of their trolleys to tipping point with seasonal ‘treats’ to gorge themselves on whilst sitting (always sitting) in front of the TV watching the latest offerings from the special Christmas schedule.

These trolleys are laden with fizzy drinks, crisps, sweets, cakes and all sorts of heart attack inducing foods as well as the obligatory several cases of lager. The remainder of the trolley is filled with seasonal treats that these people have never eaten and probably wont eat this year or any other year, things like Stilton ( oh no, it’s got mold in it) and sherry (It’s Christmas isn’t it!).

These slugs waddle around, propped up by their wheeled food troughs, indiscriminately clawing things from the shelves like one of Dale Winton’s supermarket sweepers only in slow motion.

Whatever happened to quality over quantity? Why has it never occurred to me that at a time of year when the shops are closed for an absolute maximum of 2 days I should stockpile enough food to feed an African village for a month? Is there something wrong with me?

If these Christmas behemoths want to pile on blubber for the winter then so be it, it’s not my job to save them from themselves (although it is everyone’s taxes that pay for them to have their stomachs stapled!). It’s when they turn a 5 minute jaunt into a supermarket to grab a few things into an hour long battle to pay for my single bottle of wine or beer that really winds me up. They move with sloth like speed in their own little worlds, hell bent on cramming up the aisles and making escape impossible. When I finally do get out and one of the greeters says something festively sickening like have a nice day or merry Christmas I feel the need to run through my response in my head first in order to avoid the same fate that befell the escapees from the POW camp in ‘The Great Escape’ as they get onto the bus, as if they might hurl me back into the aisles with the rest of the fat Christmas turkeys when they realise I'm not one of their Christmas automata.

Christmas is just an excuse for spendthrift, over indulgent, hypocrites to spend beyond their means, get into debt and complain in January that they have no money and are overweight.

My new years resolution may well be to never darken the door of the UK at this most grotesque and commercial time of year again, a promise I don’t think I will have a problem keeping.

Bah humbug.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Back in the USSR? I wish.

Not long ago in a county far far away I could sometimes be heard saying that I thought the UK was the best country in the world and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. I was newly arrived in a foreign and exotic land and was due to live there for the following twelve months. I had, some 6 or 7 weeks previous made a decision to go and live in Korea as an English teacher with my girlfriend.

For the first time since university I felt I had a future and had an overwhelming feeling of optimism in this future. This new found feeling of contentment grew steadily as my time in Korea progressed. As the departure date moved ever closer I began to feel a little bit uneasy at the prospect of getting back to the UK and beginning a fresh new life. The hope that some time away would of re-invigorated me seemed to be fading and I soon realised that the optimism building inside me wasn't optimism at all but contentment at living in wonderful Korea. I would arrive back in the UK in time for my birthday in mid November and then spend the Christmas period lulling around, enjoying life in the UK under a new government and living of what I had earned but not spent on my travels.

I have been back home now for around 7 weeks and I can assure you I will never again repeat the naive and ill conceived statements that would lead anyone to believe I was actually proud to be British and longed to return to my homeland because I didn’t and don’t.
I am from South Wales and we Welsh usually have a particular gripe when it come to being lumped in with the English and have been known to take offence at such ignorant jibes but when I refer to my disdain for the UK I mean all of it, especially South Wales.

I met lots of new people in Korea during my stay and some of them have become friends who I will remain in contact with and visit when time and distance permit. One particular friend was from Newcastle, New South Wales, a lively girl who could easily drink most of my male friends under the table and out of the door and I’m sure she would fit right in with The Geordies of the original Newcastle, who have been known to like a drink or two (She is actually living in Scotland at the moment so may well have found a group of drinkers to equal her thirst for the amber nectar, or any other nectar come to think of it). I have always found it a bit amusing to think that Australians (and Americans) have so many places named after places in the UK, especially New South Wales but after being home in the original South Wales for seven weeks I can categorically state that it is surely the Australians who are laughing. The reason they have a "New" South Wales? Because the old one is shite!

A long standing complaint that has recently been returned to the forefront of my mind and been exaggerated by my time in Korea is the state of public transport, particularly the rail services in the UK and the astronomical costs associated with getting from A to B. I want to reduce my carbon footprint, I like to recycle and I truly believe we should ‘feed the world’ but that is made increasingly difficult by the utter incompetence and miserly tariffs imposed on us by the rail operators. I can understand why people want to drive their cars, it’s usually quicker and cheaper than getting a train or bus, especially if you decide on a spur of the moment trip to see your granny in the Lake District. I don’t drive (yet) and the rail and bus companies have me over the proverbial barrel. My girlfriend lives in Liverpool you see and my options are severely restricted when it comes to going to see her, plan well in advance ( four, five or six months was the answer when I asked how far in advance the cheaper tickets for my journey are released!) or pay ridiculous rates on the day. Over a barrel.

The other thing I didn’t miss one iota about this country is the people, the heaving masses, the general public, what a group of people. The great British are no longer, and in my opinion have never really been that great. But when you combine the two, irritating and potentially phenomena you get the main reason for me wanting to leave. The public are the second worst thing about public transport (after the cost) , most are perfectly nice (like me) but there is always someone ready to cause a scene or make the expensive journey you begrudgingly paid for, even worse.

Train people are different from bus people, they think that because they don’t, most of the time buy a specific seat for their journey they are entitled to take as many seats as they think they need to accommodate all their bags and they think that they have the right to not sit next to anyone else, which is why they pile their bags onto the chair next to themselves, usually the inside chair so as to block off the pair of seats. This is bad enough when there are luggage racks but is made even worse when there are people stood up, people who won’t tell these selfish bastards to move their ‘effing bags (I'm certain if you did say that you would be slapped with an ASBO before you could say "How much for a single to Runcorn?"). If these people want to buy two tickets then by all means take out a second mortgage and buy your obviously important bag a seat all of its own, otherwise move them.

My most recent train journey was from Coventry and had, at no extra charge changes at Birmingham and Shrewsbury. On the platform at Shrewsbury we clambered onto the train and there were quite a lot of empty seats and so, fancying a bit of luxury for my money I decided to sit on a seat in a bank of four, two pairs facing each other with no table, so I could stretch my legs out if nobody sat opposite me.
Shock of shocks, nobody did sit opposite me but someone did sit next to me. A rather portly gentleman from Cardiff thought it would fun to pen me between his ample frame and the window, my misery, apparently not completed by my empty wallet and the delightful stays at Birmingham New Street and Shrewsbury stations. He squeezed and squashed his larger than life carcass into the seat next to me and proceeded to spill over his seat and into, or should I say onto mine, or rather me. This flowing of blubber rendered me immobile all the way from Shrewsbury until I had to ask him if he would be kind as to shoehorn himself out of his chair and peel me from his side so I could finally disembark.

Now, I don’t discriminate against people, I am in fact a supporter of equal rights for all sectors of society but I don’t really see overweight people as a separate sector of society and I feel it would be wrong to treat people who essentially eat too much and don’t exercise enough as the same as disabled people and immigrants. I'm not saying overweight people have an easy life but it is something that could be avoided. People don’t become grossly overweight by accident or by force of nature; it is entirely in the hands of the individual. I'm not fattist (I think you’ll find YOUR fattist – A Jimmy Carr original, not a Jim Davidson!) but when it encroaches on my life, or my seat then I’m not overjoyed about it. Would I be expected to not be so ‘mean’ if it was encroachment of another type, a loud ipod perhaps or some particularly bad smelling food?

Anyway, my plan is to return to Korea as soon as 2008 begins, but due to some new laws in there I will have to go through a month of bureaucratic bullshit until I can leave, but leave I will and I might not ever return.

Season of good will to all men? Bah humbug.

Last night’s TV 22nd December 2007

Britain sings Christmas was surely ITV’s weakest contribution to the festive schedule (although I am sure there will be many more disappointments to come) and what a real load of shite it turned out to be. This festive, vomit inducing program was hosted by Kate Thornton (who seems to have no noticeable talent apart from getting booked to host any old shit) and was a glorified karaoke night with audience members and people up and down the UK encouraged to sing along. With this display of carol killing Ms Thornton has added to her ever growing CV of; forgive the pun and Americanism, turkeys.
The incredibly simple and cheap format shone through to the program and revealed more about the nose diving careers of some of the nations once loved celebrities (not by me I hasten to add) than it did about the nation. The people who shameless put themselves on display were nothing more than a collection of publicity starved and possibly penniless "stars" who have turned out to sing the nation's favourite Christmas songs.
Such luminaries of the entertainment industry who graced my screen for the duration of the first song only included, former Eastender Charlie Brooks (she was fat Barry’s wife, Jeannie Butcher), Kim "I haven’t got a garden to tend to" Wilde, Jo "I used to be funny as a militant man hater but since moving into regular TV have decided to sell out and take whatever work I can get" Brand and a whole host of other Z list celebrities who couldn’t find an envelope opening to go to.
What a rubbish and one dimensional format that is you might say, but you’d be wrong. There was an audience participation part too. Mugs, I mean members of the public from four cities around the UK (Birmingham, Cardiff, Belfast and Gateshead) gathered together in the cold, presumably in front of a big screen showing something they could watch at home in front of the fire to sing along and occasionally clap and cheer like sea lions at an aquarium when told to by Ms Thornton.
There were some people there who could sing, they were professional singers from the west end and the opera world but, like all of the people who voted I didn’t know who they were and I didn’t care enough to find out their names.

Where exactly did they get the nation's favourite songs from? The nation of course, or more accurately the people who have nothing better to do than phone and register that they think Bing Crosby’s White Christmas is the best Xmas song of all time.

This merry band of serial song slayers were guided by an incredibly irritating pair of Grants, David and Cary who both insisted on standing in front of these so called singers, waving their arms around like Simon Rattle on acid.
The highlight (or lowlight, I’m not sure) was undoubtedly the pairing of Diarmund Gavin and Jo Brand singing Fairytale of New York; her because presumably she looks rough and fits in with the Macoll/Mcgowan pairing and him because…oh yeah he’s Irish.
Kate Thornton kept adding to the misery in between every song by reminding us that we could order a CD of all of the night’s songs to listen to whenever we want ( £2 of every £2.99 sale went to the prince’s trust). That would be the musical equivalent of getting food poisoning from a restaurant and then winning a year’s supply of free takeaways to re-poison yourself at your leisure.

The nations 10 favourites contained a few notable exemptions for me and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear the Paul McCartney had refused permission for them to perform Wonderful Christmas and that the phone in was rigged (as seems to be the fashion nowadays) and only songs that were within the range of the performers were included (had that actually been the case then the program would have been very short indeed!).
I think Gary Glitter’s 'Another Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas' should have be included, but then he is evil isnt he and by proxy so is everything he has ever recorded. Other notable absentees were Blue Christmas by Elvis, Let it snow, Let it snow, Let it snow by Dean Martin and Jonah Lewie’s Stop the cavalry which is probably a touch too political for prime time TV.
I was however incredibly pleased and surprised to not see Cliff Richard make a cameo appearance singing one of his dull and preachy Christmas songs.

Thankfully I was a click away from listening to these songs the way God intended (or at least the original artists) by choosing the appropriate song from my computer. This was car crash TV if ever I saw it, you cannot help but watch these poor wretches humiliating themselves on national TV.
I have lost 5 minutes of my life that I will never get back and the worst part is that I don’t even get paid to watch this drivel. Hark, the herald angels sing? I think not.

Next on ITV was Star traders: the Christmas challenge where something shit was traded for something else shit until they had something that was deemed worthy of auctioning in front of a studio audience. I watched just enough to realise I didn’t want to watch the rest. That point came when I realised the host was the silver fox Phillip Scofield with sidekicks Kieran Bracken and Mylenne Class. I turned the TV back on in time to see the end, where someone in the crowd, inspired by Queen of the Jungle Christopher Biggins to part with £35,000 for some jewellry and a pair of football boots worn by Wazza Rooney. By far the best part though was when the man from the charity Shelter came to say a few words with the lucky bidder and put both feet well and truly in his mouth. He explained how the money would be used , said how pleased he was and how the money would help them touch hundreds of children. Not what charities should use money for is it?
Orson Welles once said that he hated Television. That he hated it as much as peanuts. But that he couldn’t stop eating peanuts. Well I hate peanuts too but I cant stop eating them either which perhaps explains why I feel compelled to expose myself to something on TV I know will infuriate me at least once a week.

Next is an audience with Celine Dion and I really am turning the TV off until Match of the day comes on because the only way I can exorcise the demons of these diabolical programs is to write something about them and I fear that if I keep watching terrestrial, Christmas TV, I will spend the festive period in front of a computer instead of in the pub like most people.

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